Doctor-Patient Confidentiality with Teenagers


Your teenager may not wish to tell you everything about his or her personal life—as is the nature of the teen years. However, it’s still important that he or she gets appropriate medical care. Because of this, teens are entitled to doctor consultations and examinations with a degree of doctor-patient confidentiality.

Confidentiality agreements in regards to teens may vary from state to state and practice to practice. For this reason, it’s recommended that both you and your teen review his or her doctor’s privacy policies in order to understand what can and cannot be disclosed to parents. While parents may not like being kept in the dark about their child’s health, it affords the teen a chance to openly discuss any concerns with his or her doctor, which can aid with diagnosis and treatment.

What doctors keep private depends on state law in your state.  You have to inquire in your state to be exact.

  • Alcohol and drug use: While a teen may not feel comfortable talking about that wild party with his or her parents, it’s important for doctors to know about his or her alcohol and drug usage. A doctor can make a more accurate diagnosis when equipped with this information. Not to mention, certain prescription medications may react with alcohol and drugs, and teens need to be aware that these substances should not be combined.
  • Sexual activity: If a teen is sexually active, it’s crucial that STD testing become a routine part of physical examinations. A teen should be able to talk to his or her doctor about sexual activity in order to get the best possible medical care—without the fear of a parent getting involved.
  • Minor mental health issues: Many teens suffer from anxiety and/or depression at some point, and 45 percent of these teens admit that they would only seek help if they were not required to notify their parents in order to do so. The ability to discuss mental health issues privately is key to teens getting necessary medical advice and treatment.

When is it appropriate for doctors to breech a teen’s confidentiality in order to inform parents of more pressing issues?

  • Contraception and abortion: While many teens have access to confidential contraception consults, some states require that parents must be notified. There are also varying laws pertaining to abortion. Some states require parental notification if the patient is a minor. Learning the laws of your home state can be helpful when dealing with similar issues.
  • HIV/AIDS: Teens may be entitled to confidential HIV testing, but in many cases, parents will be notified if the test results come back positive. Again, there are varying state laws surrounding this issue.
  • Severe mental health issues: If a teen displays mental health issues that put him/her at risk for suicide or may possibly be a danger to others, doctors will often notify parents of the diagnosis. If the issues appear to stem from the teen’s home life, then doctors will likely notify the authorities.


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